Love and Chaos Part 7(G) Richard 1

7th June 2021

Part Seven. Berlin. June 1995

At some point between the end of May and the beginning of June, Richard Marshall was struck by a severe case of the Berlin paranoia, and apart from the journey to and from work, he was practically unable to leave his flat.

The causes were easy to ascertain; one was not speaking German. This meant that all but the most basic transactions required a translator or he would be, and feel, utterly helpless.

He shopped in the small Spar store, being able to pick up items and see the price on the till display, but he couldn’t open a bank account, pay a bill, understand why a train had stopped in a tunnel, why a street was closed, read any official letters or get a proper job.

Biberkopf was now a painful, humiliating ordeal, more and more work from the lazy chef, and being all but ignored by all other members of staff. He was certain that Walter, the owner, looked right through him as if he wasn’t even there. Jolande, the cute waitress, had recently started seeing a customer who drove an expensive car, and now she barely acknowledged his presence. He responded in the only way he knew how; by being completely silent and refusing to speak to anyone, creating an impenetrable wall that kept everyone out. He was good at keeping things in.

There were also sleepless nights worrying about his interrupted studies, and it now being too late to get onto a course when term started in September. He would have to wait another year.

There was also the certainty that he would never meet a woman, that he would go to bed alone and wake up alone every day for the rest of his life.

He didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything, or rather, felt that he simply couldn’t.

After about three weeks he knew he had to snap out of it, or leave Berlin. He also knew that the life he had here was far better than one he could expect back in London, but washing up for a living was hardly living. The Orwellian honeymoon period was well over.

He was thinking about this, standing by a giant, industrial pot of potatoes that he had to peel, when he put his mind to a problem posed by Chris and Daniel; what to name the band.

He thought of some tag lines, based around the fact that three of them were from Russia, coming up with things like ‘Country & Eastern’ and such like. Then he threw the potato he was peeling into the sink of greasy water and smiled. He ordered a beer from the first waitress who came into the kitchen and though it took an eternity to arrive, he didn’t mind. He had the band’s name. It gave him a reason to go to the Czar Bar where, even if Chris wasn’t working, he’d be drinking. That had become a certainty.

Chris knew all about the paranoia, having experienced it himself.

He’d spoken to others and it was quite common, a sense of homelessness mixed with a feeling of having no home, being unwanted and uncared for. A realisation that he would never understand the language and would be cheated and laughed at and insulted. Most of the time, Chris had been with Marina or Claudia, then his own Ute, and then Monika, who would help him.

But he had his own freakouts. He had once turned a plastic bag inside out, because it had English writing on it and he felt it marked him out as a target for fascists and skinheads.

His answer to Richard was to drink. Richard had noticed that Chris’ answer to everything now seemed to be to drink.

As expected, Chris was holding court, on his favoured end stool, Andrei listening to him while Olga was busy with customers.

“Richard !” cried Chris, immediately ordering him a beer and vodka. Richard welcomed them, knowing that there would be many more before he staggered home.

After the initial moments of hysteria, when Chris filled him in on what he had missed over the last weeks, Richard made an announcement concerning the band. Chris called Andrei back, as it affected him directly.

“The name of the band is,” said Richard, copying Chris’ talent for building excitement, “Sawhead The Bear.”

“YES!” screamed Chris, eyes lighting up. Andrei looked puzzled,

“What is ‘Sawhead’ ?” Chris had a reply ready,

“Nothing ! Everything ! Doesn’t matter. What a great name, what a perfect name, it is the only name for the band. Well, drinks all round, vodka ! Hey, Jake, just in time, you must be able to smell vodka.”

Jake swayed over to them,

“Yeah, I can smell something!”

Andrei was busy translating, as best he could, the nonsensical ‘Sawhead’ into Russian. Olga looked even more puzzled and turned to Richard, going up close to him and asking him something in German, but he didn’t listen, he just wanted to grab her, but Andrei, being built like the Kremlin, probably would have raised an objection.

Chris meanwhile told him what Olga had wanted, namely, how on earth he came up with such a peculiar name ?

“I was at work,” was all he said, and Chris understood,

“Making the Camembert ?” he asked, referring to one of the nightly duties, covering the half blocks of cheese in egg and breadcrumbs, ready for deep-frying.

“Potatoes.”

Chris winced.

The remainder of the night was spent toasting the new band name, with Andrei greeting each new customer with,

“Yes, Sawhead ?”

Needless to say, both Richard and Chris awoke with very sore heads. Chris suddenly understood the band name. As he was getting dressed, he looked out of the window and saw Johan’s girlfriend, Veronica, walk across the Hof and enter the door of her boyfriend’s block.

He suddenly understood something else, as well. Even with a thumping sore head, Veronica was a sight for sore eyes.

Love and Chaos Part 7(E) Ragno Prologue

2nd June 2021

The Stassi HQ, east Berlin. Google Images

Part Seven. Berlin. Summer 1995

One night in the Czar Bar, a tall thin man walked in, ordered a beer and, the bar stools all being occupied, stood quietly against a wall and drank alone.

Chris didn’t like the look of him from the start. He was older, probably mid-forties, possibly more. Even in the poor light of the bar, his skin was visibly pockmarked, from disease, drug abuse or both.

He had heard Germans talking about ex-Stasi (the East German Secret Police) informers and knew the incredible statistics; as many as one in four people gave information and spied on their neighbours. The forty odd years of the DDR had generated as much paperwork and files as the rest of German history combined.

This man, alone, out of place, was, Chris decided, a clear ex-informer, probably here to spy on the bar and the customers, to close it down, gather names, prosecute for all the illegal activities.

When he had finished his beer, he walked over to the bar and put the empty bottle carefully on the counter. Chris snarled,

“Another ?”

The man shook his head, and said, in English but with a soft accent,

“No, thank you.” Then he smiled. It was a smile of serenity and peace, that completely disarmed Chris who instantly changed his opinion. “Tchüss, Jake,” he said as he left.

“Ah, yeah, tchüss, Ragno,” answered Jake as he put empty bottles into a crate with one hand and pulled out three more beers with the other.

“Who was that ?”

“Oh, Ragno. Haven’t seen him for a while. Good guy. No problems, has his beer then goes.”

“So we ain’t gonna get rich off him ?”

“He’s got a young girlfriend, so . . . “

“Ah,” said Chris, “yeah, why would he get drunk if he’s got a babe waiting for him. Fuck, how does he do it ? Face like that ?”

“No, he’s a nice guy. Well, I dunno, he had a young girlfriend. Not sure if they’re still together.”

Robert, in apparent apropos of nothing, let out a,

“Shit on a stick !” while Peter lifted a half empty beer bottle to his lips and momentarily silenced the bar with an amazingly pure note.

Chris wanted to know a little more about Ragno, but a round of vodkas was ordered and by the time the bar had quietened down, he had forgotten all about him.